20 When you come together it is hardly befitting of the Lord’s Supper, 21 for when you eat, each one takes his own supper first; one goes hungry while another gets drunk! 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What am I to say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I do not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a person must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number are deceased. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, have him eat at home, so that you do not come together for judgment. As to the remaining matters, I will give instructions when I come (1Cor11:20-34).
Whilst the first part of 1Cor11 dealt with the intriguing subject of why women should wear head coverings in religious assemblies (previous post) we now move on to the more crucial issue of the Lord’s supper and its precise nature. Paul doesn’t elucidate too much on the latter here; he is more concerned with how the Corinthians were conducting themselves at the Lord’s Supper – disgracefully in some cases, the narrative largely speaking for itself. But why are the penalties for partaking unworthily so drastic? “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number are deceased” (v30). Such would hardly be the penalty for half-hearted hymn singing or insincere praying – No, the Lord’s Supper is quite different and special.
A few chapters back Paul described the chalice as “the cup of blessing that we bless, being the communion of the blood of Christ” (10:16). For the first 25 years of my Christian life, I understood the bread and wine to be merely symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. My understanding has changed, particularly since the spiritual encounter that led to my book and these posts. That is especially in view of Jesus’ teaching in John 6, not least where He states:
“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. THIS IS THE BREAD THAT HAS COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, so that anyone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (Jn6:49-52)
This harks back to the previous chapter of Paul’s epistle currently being considered (1Cor10) in which he warned the Corinthian Church that they were no more spiritually secure than their Jewish forefathers who were as much “the people of God” as they were. However, there is a difference, for as the text from Jn6 indicates, until Jesus was incarnated, lived, died and was resurrected, the bread of Life and cup of salvation were not available. Yet if the latter were merely symbolic, why would that have mattered? But it did matter: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I AM THE LIVING BREAD THAT HAS (ONLY NOW) COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN” (Jn6:49). Likewise, the symbolic “drinking from the rock that represented Christ” (1Cor10) did not result in the spiritual life to which Jesus referred. Neither did the animal sacrifices: “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form of those things itself, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually every year, make those who approach perfect” (Heb10:1), whereas the blood of Christ can provide both pardon and sanctification to the participant. Again, if the latter were merely symbolic why would the animal’s blood and sacrifice that prefigured Christ’s atoning death not have been equally efficacious?
But then there is the witness of the earliest Christian writers concerning the Lord’s Supper and that is what ratified the issue for me. The matter is of such importance that I suggest you read my earlier post focusing on this subject. Then if (and only if) after perhaps months and years of prayerful research your understanding changes concerning “the real presence”, then regrettably you are likely to have to do as I did some years ago – reconsider your denominational allegiance.
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Related post: The Last Supper